Composition, the fourth element of drawing, is, as its name implies, the art of composing the elements of a drawing. Apart from composing the masses (or shapes), there is the composition of the weight of colour, and composition of interest to be considered. All these elements have to be arranged in such a way that the whole creates a harmony and self-sufficient pattern, quite apart from the particular theme of the picture itself. Good composition is largely a matter of feeling, not rule. There are, of course, rules by which good composition may be secured, or perhaps it would be better to say by which bad composition may be avoided, and a number of such rules are given at the end of this chapter. But they are not the only rules; and although there are good and bad compositions, there are absolutely no limits to the different ways of composing pictures.

Composition, in the fashion-drawing sense, has a rather different application from what it has in the ordinary accepted sense. There are, naturally, certain principles which are common to both; and it is when it comes to a question of composing a drawing, that the young fashion artist finds the value of her early training in design at art school. But there is one very important difference about fashion composition which may perhaps best be explained by defining what fashion composition is. Fashion composition is the arrangement of given matter within a circumscribed area. In this respect it differs fundamentally from the purely creative artist's conception of the term. He is neither restricted in his choice of material, compelled to put in so much and no more, as is a fashion artist, nor as a rule is he limited in the space which he may use.


In effect, then, composition means to the fashion artist the arrangement of a given figure, or number of figures, together with a suitable background; or, in some cases, the arrangement of figures together with suitable areas for headlines, descriptive typesetting, decorative motives, etc. Involved compositions which include advertising messages, such as headlines and general matter, are, however, usually designed by an artist who specializes in this work, technically known as lay-out. Lay-outs are simply rough compositions showing the arrangement of the figures and anything else to be incorporated. Lay-out specialists are only found in the larger commercial studios. Elsewhere an artist is often required to do the lay-out herself; and in any case a good fashion artist should be capable of doing the whole job. This involves not only an understanding of, and feeling for, good composition, but a general knowledge of typesetting and the limitations of block-making knowing, for example, that the type cannot run into the figures and to this extent composition may be said to depend on technical considerations.

In fashion drawing the artist's object is so to separate the figures that each is given its full silhouette value; so that they may be individually considered whilst yet forming an integral part of the whole drawing. In ordinary drawing this arrangement would be considered a fault, since it is an axiom of pictorial composition to avoid the appearance of stray component items of the design one deals rather in masses, and the bunched effect of light and shade.

We have said that there are many sorts of composition, and all "good" composition is permissible. Since the beginner has to start somewhere, a good plan is to get to know a group of composition themes. Get someone who understands to explain, say, six different, straightforward ways of arranging a figure in a given space. When these have been thoroughly mastered go on to a seventh and eighth and so on. Until straight composition has been thoroughly mastered in this way the advanced or "modern" styles (for example where the head or other parts of the figure butts off out of the picture) should not be attempted.

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Nowadays, more, perhaps, than ever before, there is a great endeavour to achieve "originality" in drawing. Obviously there are broad limitations to the ways in which the various mediums may be applied. Likewise, although subjects are innumerable, there is a limit to the number of sorts of things, so that most subjects seem to have "been done before " as it were. We all know "Sheep in the Snow," "Portrait of a Lady," and "Sunset"; and no sheep, lady, or sunset as such is likely to be thought an original subject. Consequently, it is in composition rather than style and subject that the modern artist strives to be original; certainly this is true of fashion drawing where both the media and the subject are strictly defined. To meet the continuous cry from the advertisers for "something new" in fashion drawing, which practically means something new in composition, becomes an increasingly difficult task. So many new compositions have been exploited apparently to finality that it might almost seem that only the superlatively clever artist could strike yet another really new note. But, paradoxically, this very exploitation of new forms and compositions opens up and suggests of itself other new ideas to the intelligent and discerning artist. It requires only an ability to see things arranged something a little differently to achieve just that originality in composition for which the advertising world is looking.

It has been explained above that the fashion artist's task is to compose her picture in such a way that each garment is separately displayed, and yet to avoid giving it the appearance of a collection of single units unrelated as a whole. But this is not an iron rule admitting of no variation. For example, in editorial illustration in good magazines of the kind which cater for a sophisticated public, composition has become more free and inclined to the pictorial or abstract. The individual details of each figure are secondary to the appeal and arrangement of the drawing as a whole. But for the ordinary "bread and butter" stuff" of fashion drawing the rule is a safe one to follow.

One of the chief considerations that has to be contended with

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Fashion Drawing Sections

Part-1 Part-2 Part-3 Part-4